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Article: Sauna Therapy for Diabetic Patients: A Guide to Infrared Saunas

Sauna Therapy for Diabetic Patients: A Guide to Infrared Saunas

Sauna Therapy for Diabetic Patients: A Guide to Infrared Saunas

Written by Chris Lang

 

People have used saunas for thousands of years to relax, recharge, and enhance their overall well-being. As these heat chambers were increasingly used, it became obvious that sauna sessions could also help promote better health. From boosting blood circulation to improving cardiovascular function, numerous health benefits of regular sauna bathing have been established, backed by scientific research.

Saunas have been found to help people manage various medical conditions, with diabetes being one of them. Though the sauna and diabetes link calls for more research, early findings suggest that sauna bathing can positively impact diabetes management. So, it’s no wonder there has been a growing interest in sauna therapy and its potential health benefits for people with diabetes.

Suppose you, too, have been interested in this form of thermal therapy but worry about potential risks and contraindications. In that case, you’ve come to the right place. Use this guide to explore the safety and suitability of sauna therapy for your individual health needs.

Saunas and Diabetes: An Overview

Before diving into the relationship between sauna and diabetes, let’s look at each individually.

Saunas 101: Definition and Types

Saunas require no detailed introduction. Basically, they are heated rooms or chambers primarily designed for relaxation. Though instances of sauna-like structures can be found thousands of years back, the modern sauna is associated with Scandinavian traditions (or Finnish, to be precise). In fact, the word “sauna” is of Finnish origin and means “bathhouse.”

Today, there are numerous iterations of these popular structures. However, two essential elements remain the same – a heat source and some seating.

Traditional Finnish saunas, also known as dry saunas, rely on wood burning to elevate the temperature within the room. These saunas heat the air directly, which, in turn, causes sauna bathers to sweat profusely. The more modernized versions of dry saunas use electrical heaters. Still, one thing remains the same – they create an environment with extremely high temperatures (up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit) and low humidity. As such, they can only be used up to 30 minutes at a time (a 20-minute session is the safest option for most people).

Infrared saunas, in contrast, can be used slightly longer (up to 45 minutes per session). Why? The answer is simple – they produce lower temperatures (up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit). In addition, these saunas don’t heat the air. Instead, they target sauna bathers directly through infrared light, making the entire experience more tolerable.

Diabetes 101: Definition and Types

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a metabolic disease characterized by the inability to control blood glucose levels. Though there are many sub-classifications of diabetes, including maturity-onset and gestational diabetes, two subtypes are considered primary – type 1 and type 2 diabetes. [1]

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition characterized by insufficient insulin production by the pancreas. People with this condition require daily administration of insulin. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, isn’t caused by an autoimmune response, which, in turn, means it can be managed by lifestyle changes and oral medications. This diabetes type prevents your body from using insulin properly, resulting in high blood sugar levels.

Both of these types significantly impact people’s lives, potentially leading to severe complications like heart disease and kidney failure. However, since type 2 diabetes is preventable and treatable (and over 95% of people with diabetes have it), this guide will primarily focus on it when discussing the sauna-diabetes link.

Sauna Use and Diabetes

Both traditional and infrared saunas show significant promise in managing diabetes, with potential benefits in blood sugar control and cardiovascular health. However, due to their approach and lower temperature, infrared saunas might be more suitable for people with diabetes, as they can have difficulty tolerating extreme heat and staying adequately hydrated.

But why use a sauna at all if you have diabetes? The answer is simple – sauna bathing can benefit your condition.

Early research suggests that sauna bathing can improve insulin sensitivity, allowing your body to use this hormone more efficiently. The same can be said for insulin absorption, which is crucial for those who require insulin injections.

But this is just a tiny taste of what regular sauna use can do for people with diabetes. The goal of this guide is to explore the potential relationship between saunas and diabetes management in much more detail, which is precisely what the next few sections will do.

Health Benefits of Sauna Therapy for Diabetics

To help you understand how using a traditional or infrared sauna can help patients with type 2 diabetes manage their condition, let’s first explore the science behind the sauna-diabetes link.

The Science Behind Sauna and Diabetes

When you use a sauna, your body temperature rises. This causes your body to react in several ways, with the goal of cooling itself. Among these reactions, two are important when discussing the effects of sauna bathing on diabetes – blood vessel dilation and heat shock protein activation.

The first occurs as your body tries dissipating heat by widening the blood vessels, thus improving blood circulation. The second directly results from the heat shock, which forces your body to change its internal processes.

But how do these physiological changes affect your general health? Let’s find out.

Improving Insulin Sensitivity

Heat shock proteins play a role in maintaining various cellular processes. Insulin signaling is one of them. As these proteins get activated, the insulin receptors on the cell surface become more responsive to this protein. This means that sauna bathing can have a direct impact on insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. [2]

But why does improved insulin sensitivity matter? Improved insulin sensitivity means better glucose uptake, which directly combats one of the main issues of type 2 diabetes. It’s important to know that the improved blood circulation resulting from sauna use also benefits glucose intake. As blood vessels dilate, it becomes significantly easier for glucose to be transported and cleared more effectively.

Lowering Blood Sugar Levels

Heat shock protein activation has another, more immediate effect on people with diabetes – it lowers their blood glucose levels. In this regard, sauna bathing acts similarly to physical exercise. But like exercise, sauna bathing can drop blood glucose levels too much and too quickly, which can be dangerous for people with diabetes (especially type 1). That’s why limiting your sauna sessions and taking proper precautions before and after sauna bathing is critical.

Besides these instant results, there is evidence that regular sauna bathing might help prevent hyperglycemia in the long run, thus offering a valuable tool for managing diabetes. [3]

Increasing Insulin Absorption

Patients with type 2 diabetes will undoubtedly experience more health benefits from sauna bathing. However, this doesn’t mean this activity offers no benefits to those with type 1 diabetes.

Regular sauna use will speed up your body’s ability to absorb insulin after an injection. [4] This is a direct result of blood vessel dilation and improved circulation. Thanks to this benefit, patients with type 1 diabetes might be able to lower their daily insulin dose.

Relieving the Symptoms of Diabetic Complications

Unfortunately, diabetes can cause a wide range of complications, which can significantly impact your quality of life. Here’s how regular sauna use can help relieve the symptoms of some of these complications.

  • Neuropathy. Neuropathy is a common diabetes complication characterized by extensive nerve damage. Roughly half of people with diabetes have some type of this condition. According to older studies, sauna therapy can help reduce neuropathic pain, leading to increased comfort and improved mobility.

  • Poor blood circulation to extremities. Poor blood circulation is a common symptom of diabetes, especially in extremities. Given how effective sauna bathing is in boosting blood flow, it can be particularly beneficial for people with these diabetes complications. It should be noted that the far-infrared sauna is particularly helpful with foot circulation. [5]

  • Poor healing. Diabetes can impair the body’s ability to heal wounds and injuries. With past studies connecting sauna bathing with faster wound healing and reduced inflammation, it’s clear that sauna therapy can help in this regard, too.

  • Cardiovascular side-effects. Diabetes can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular function, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and similar complications. By improving your blood circulation and reducing blood pressure, sauna bathing helps enhance cardiovascular health, potentially mitigating the risks associated with diabetes-related cardiovascular complications.

Promoting Relaxation

Dealing with diabetes is no easy task. As a result, many patients are in a constant state of stress and anxiety, which can further adversely affect their health. Sauna bathing can help in this regard, too. By providing a therapeutic escape, sauna use helps individuals improve their mental well-being dramatically, ultimately leading to a better quality of life.

Sauna Safety and Considerations for Diabetics

There’s no doubt that regular sauna bathing has numerous health benefits. However, it’s important to note that the high temperatures within these rooms are also associated with some health risks. For this reason, consulting with your physician before starting heat therapy is a must.

Note that this applies to all conditions, not just diabetes. Let’s say you have asthma. Instead of googling “Is sauna good for asthma?” and relying solely on search results, a consultation with your healthcare provider will give you all the answers you need.

Additionally, once you start using the sauna, you must do it safely and responsibly, as this is the only way to avoid unintended health complications.

Sauna Use in Managing Diabetes: Tips and Guidelines

When using a sauna with diabetes, the most important consideration is avoiding potential health risks associated with this form of heat therapy. These include the following:

  • Dehydration. Proper hydration before and after sauna use is essential for all sauna-goers. However, it becomes critical for people with diabetes as they usually lose water quicker. Without sufficient water intake, your blood sugar level can spike. So, drink at least a glass before entering the sauna and at least two upon your exit.

  • Hyperthermia. The damage diabetes causes to blood vessels and nerves can directly affect your body’s ability to cool down. That means that sauna use can easily lead to hyperthermia if you aren’t careful. The solution? Limit your sauna sessions. Most studies on sauna bathing report that the best results are achieved when using the sauna four to seven times a week for 20 minutes at a time. But if this is too much for you, feel free to decrease the frequency and duration of your sauna sessions.

  • Hypoglycemia. Sure, improved insulin absorption and lower blood sugar levels benefit insulin management in the long run. However, if these happen too fast during a sauna session, you can experience hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). Limiting your time spent in the sauna and avoiding overheating can also help you in this regard.

Here are a few other guidelines to keep in mind if you want to incorporate sauna therapy into your lifestyle:

  • Check your blood sugar levels more frequently than usual, and be ready to correct it if necessary.

  • Avoid alcohol and any medication that might result in overheating before sauna bathing.

  • After leaving the sauna, cool down gradually.

  • Avoid using a sauna while sick.

  • Immediately leave the sauna if you feel unwell.

Other Lifestyle Factors and Diabetes

As beneficial as sauna bathing may be, it should never be the only treatment option. Instead, it would be best to view it as a part of a comprehensive wellness routine that aims to improve the quality of life. This is the only way to ensure effective diabetes management.

So, besides regularly using the sauna, you should:

  • Prepare and eat healthy food.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Monitor your blood sugar diligently.

  • Take your medicines as prescribed.

  • Learn how to manage stress (outside the sauna, too!).

  • Go to your doctor for regular checkups.

Also, you’ll be happy to know that regular sauna use might help you with a slew of other problems. For instance, you can use an infrared sauna for back pain, skin improvement, and detox.

Heat, Health, and Happiness

Though the research on the sauna and diabetes relationship is ever-evolving, the initial findings are more than promising. With regular sauna use, you might be able to improve insulin sensitivity, lower your blood sugar levels (instantly and in the long run), and relieve many of the symptoms of common diabetic complications. The result? A significantly healthier, happier, and less stressful life with diabetes.

Though these health benefits sound tempting, remember to consult your healthcare provider before incorporating sauna therapy into your diabetes management plan. Once you get the green light, find the perfect in-house sauna at Komowa and start your wellness journey.

Related Articles

Here are some articles that can help you learn more about saunas, diabetes, and their relationship.

Contact Information

If you have diabetes and want to use a sauna, there’s no one better to consult than your healthcare provider. However, if you want to know more about this condition, you can contact experts from the American Diabetes Association at askada@diabetes.org. To learn more about the health benefits of saunas, feel free to contact the professionals at Komowa at support@komowa.com.

References

  1. National Library of Medicine. “Diabetes.”

  2. National Library of Medicine. “Regular Thermal Therapy May Promote Insulin Sensitivity.”

  3. Indian Journal of Medical Biochemistry. “Effect of Steam Sauna Bath on Fasting Blood Glucose Level in Healthy Adults.”

  4. National Library of Medicine. “Sauna-Induced Acceleration in Insulin Absorption From Subcutaneous Injection Site.”

  5. National Library of Medicine. “Effects of Far-Infrared Therapy on Foot Circulation.”

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